Export opportunities in the UAE for UK businesses

In this piece, Richard Cuda looks at the international trade opportunities available in the UAE for UK small businesses.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has become a more significant export market for UK businesses than major economies such as Japan and India, according to analysis of official UK trade data by Santander.

Overall, the country was the 11th most important export market for UK goods in 2015, worth £6.2 billion (an increase of 3 per cent over 2014). This compares to the likes of Japan (£4.6 billion in UK exports); Sweden (£4.45 billion); India (£4.3 billion) and Australia (£4 billion). It may be placed behind more traditional export markets such as Germany (£30.6 billion) and France (£18 billion), but the UAE has clearly become a land of opportunities for many UK businesses.

Indeed, the country is also one of our fastest-growing export partners: over the three-year period between 2013-2015, the UAE was the fifth-fastest growing destination for UK goods, with exports up 16 per cent.

The opportunities for UK businesses in the UAE are huge, and the country offers rich opportunities for exporters and in a diverse range of sectors. Oil and gas may be the first industries to come to mind; however, if we look at Dubai, oil and gas contributed less than 3 per cent of its GDP in 2015.

Indeed, key sectors in terms of opportunities include healthcare, education, environment, aerospace, consumables, and food and drink. The award of the World Expo 2020 (expo2020dubai.ae) to Dubai is forecast to boost the economy significantly, which will result in opportunities across many additional sectors, particularly hospitality and construction.

Made in Britain brand is incredibly powerful

According to the Dubai-based British Centre for Business (BCB), for instance, a business-to-business professional services company and a member of the Overseas Business Network Initiative, there are significant, tangible opportunities for UK companies in the UAE.

The BCB has first-hand experience of how powerful the ‘Made in Britain’ brand is and continues to be, and urges UK businesses to seriously consider the UAE as a primary export market.
Santander passionately believes that the UAE represents a significant opportunity for UK businesses. In July this year, the bank organised a UK buyer’s roadshow with Birmingham-based Y International Ltd, the UK buying arm of LuLu Group International, the largest chain of supermarkets across the Middle East.

Y International Ltd has stated that the demand for high-quality UK food and drink products in the Middle East and other territories such as the UAE across the LuLu chain are huge. In fact, demand is so great – particularly for quintessentially ‘Made in Britain’ goods – the business is significantly expanding its facilities in Birmingham in 2016 to cater for the demand for UK exports.

High visibility safety livery for vehicles in the UAE region

The bank also took a number of UK businesses on one of its Trade Missions to the UAE in 2014 and many of the businesses have since developed significant business relationships and exported as a direct result.

West Sussex-based PVL, for instance, identified the opportunity to sell high-visibility safety livery for vehicles in the UAE region, discovering that no-one else was targeting the market and that PVL would have first mover advantage. Organisations in the region are keen to improve safety standards and were receptive to a British brand with a strong track record in supporting the emergency services in the UK.

Established in 1999, PVL supplies specialist reflective livery to the majority of the UK emergency services including police, ambulance and fire services as well as to highway contractors and major UK blue chip companies.

Nick Broom, managing director of PVL says that he targeted the UAE region some years ago when growth opportunities in our core UK market slowed down. ‘We have over 50 per cent market share in the UK police force, for example, so we needed to widen our targets to include the Gulf region in general and the UAE in particular.’

A powerful way to drive new revenues

Exporting is a powerful way to drive new revenues, seize new opportunities and take a business to the next level.

It is very clear that the UAE has now become a major, increasingly important export market for UK firms, and the momentum is there for the country to become an even more significant trading partner in the future. Could the 2016 figures, for instance, reveal that the country has become a top 10 export market?

While the UAE may seem like a challenging market to many UK businesses, this is not the case. It has become a great deal easier for companies to export there, supported by a range of stakeholders.

Richard Cuda is director of strategic banking alliances at Santander UK

Further reading on export opportunities

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